Rogue River Trail Backpacking Guide

 

The Rogue River Trail is one of the most scenic early season backpacking trips in Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest in general. The route traverses the north side of the Rogue River for 40 miles as it rolls through the lush and remote Rogue Valley. The scenery is fantastic, with gorgeous spring wildflowers and abundant wildlife. There are few other hikers on the trail and many beautiful campsites along the way. With few early season backpacking options to chose from in the Pacific Northwest, the Rogue River Trail is among the very best. 

Author: Annie Hopfensperger
Published: June 8th, 2017

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 40 miles (one way)
  • Days Needed: 3-5 days
  • Type: Shuttle or out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,500ft / 4,950ft
  • Best Travel Time: Spring and fall (April/May/Sept/Oct). Although you can hike year round, summer can get very hot.
  • Permits: None
  • Difficulty: Moderate 

Highlights

  • Spring wildflowers
  • Beautiful riverside campsites
  • Abundant wildlife - chance to see black bears
  • Well-maintained trail
  • Decent solitude
  • Shuttle service options
  • Wilderness lodging and river rafting trip options

Lowlights

  • Abundant poison oak. Like, ridiculously abundant.
  • Ticks and rattlesnakes are somewhat common.
  • Hiking mid-summer can be dangerously hot.
  • Some steep sections, not too bad, but probably a bad choice for those with a fear of heights.
  • Shared use with river rafters (and jet boats on the western section).
  • Expensive early season shuttle when Bear Camp road is closed.  

Best Time to Travel

The Rogue River Trail can technically be hiked year-round due to its low elevation. However, the best time to hike is in the spring and fall. Summer brings scorching heat into the canyon and conditions can be dangerous if you’re not well prepared. 

Although this area of Oregon is generally drier than other parts of the state, it still receives a fair amount of rain (and sometimes snow) in the winter. If you decide to hike in winter, be prepared for the possibility of washouts, downed trees, and muddy trails. Also, getting a car shuttle in the winter and early spring is possible, but it’s much more expensive until the main road (Bear Camp) opens (usually mid to late May).  

Difficulty

  • Total Distance: About 40 Miles
  • Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,500 ft / 4950 ft
  • Overall Difficulty: Moderate

We rate this hike overall as moderate difficulty. Over the course of 40 miles, the trail undulates along the river with some big ups and downs, but without the same type of climbing you’ll experience on most PNW mountain trails. The trail does have some narrow portions with steep dropoffs, so take care in these sections.

As always, difficulty ratings depend on your experience, physical fitness, pack weight, & weather conditions. This is not a technically demanding hike, but like any backpacking trip, you should plan accordingly, train properly, know your limitations, brush up on your skills, and dial in your gear. Doing so will make for a safe and enjoyable adventure.

Permits

No permits are needed to hike the Rogue River Trail. Woo hoo!  

Getting There

From Portland, the Rogue River Trail it’s roughly a 4 hour drive south. You will take I-5 south until you reach exit 76. Head west for 15 miles towards the Grave Creek Bridge. Just past the Grave Creek Bridge is the Grave Creek Boat Ramp parking lot, which is the starting trailhead for this trip. There there is a Rogue River Trail information sign up a small hill near the end of the parking lot, but you might not immediately see it. If you chose to arrange a shuttle service, they’ll usually pick up your car from here and drive it down to the Foster Bar Boat Launch Parking Lot (not the Foster Bar Trailhead, but very close) for you.

Trailheads

This trip guide starts at the Graves Creek Boat Ramp and ends at the Foster Bar Boat Launch parking lot. Although you can hike the Rogue River Trail in either direction, it’s most common to start at Graves Creek and hike west down the river valley.

Shuttle Services

There are three common options for hiking this trail: 1) Plan an out-and-back hike from one trailhead. 2) Take two cars and park one at your ending trailhead. And 3) Hire a shuttle service to pick up your car from one trailhead and drop it off at the other while you hike.

Some shuttle services will pick up your car from the trailhead and others will offer to drop you off to start your hike. With both options the service will keep your car in a safe location while you hike and drop off your car the day you plan to hike out. A second set of car keys will be useful for this service, but there are clever ways around that if you only have one set of keys.

Prices vary depending on the time of year (due to snowpack road closures) and the company you choose. When Bear Camp road is open, shuttle rates from popular outfitters run about $115-$140 per car (at the time of this posting). When longer shuttle routes are necessary, rates increase to around $190-$300 depending on route options. 

Popular Rogue River Shuttle Companies:

Map courtesy of blm.gov

Map courtesy of blm.gov

Maps & Guidebooks

The Backpacking Oregon book is an excellent resource for this trail and many other trips around Oregon. It’s got great play-by-play descriptions of the hike that are useful when planning out camping locations, side trips, and more.

The BLM Rogue River Trail Guide has a lot of good information as well.

The Rogue River Trail is well-maintained and marked, so off-trail navigation will most likely be unnecessary. Still, I highly recommend hiking with detailed maps and a quality compass (the Suunto M-3 D Leader is my current fave) anytime you’re going into the wilderness.

It’s always good to to have a topographical map for trail mileage, water sources, and campsite scouting. I printed the BLM map shown above, sections of this Caltopo map, and used the Gaia GPS phone app for navigating this trail.

Regulations

  • Check the Rogue River Forest Service page for official regulations. Some important considerations:
  • Fires are prohibited within 400 feet of river.
  • Please check with a local ranger station prior to your trip to ensure there is no fire ban. The Rogue River area is very dry and extra precaution must be taken. In all honesty, it's probably best just to plan on not having campfires.

Water

Water is normally plentiful along this trail and easily accessible from small streams. Carry enough water to get from one source to the next and a lightweight water purifier. My current favorites are the SteriPEN Ultra and Sawyer Squeeze.

Backpacking Gear

We prefer lightweight backpacking because it’s more comfortable and it allows us to cover more ground with less effort. It makes the hiking a lot more fun and trip logistics a lot easier. But we don’t like giving up camp comforts either. We hike with bombproof shelters, plush sleeping pads, cozy sleeping bags, and all the other camp comforts everyone wants. We just prioritize keeping weight to a minimum and spend a ton of time testing great gear. For recommendations on our favorite lightweight backpacking equipment, check out the CleverHiker Gear Guide and Top Picks page.

Solitude

Compared to most popular PNW hiking destinations, the Rogue River Trail sees far fewer hikers, so in that sense the solitude is excellent. That said, the Rogue River is a popular rafting location as well, so you may have to share some campsites with whitewater rafters. On the last 10 mile stretch of the trail (the western side) you may also hear the occasional roar of jetboats.

Bears & Food Storage

Black bears are common along this trail, especially on the western side. In high bear population areas there are bear boxes, food hoists, and bear fences for convenient nighttime food storage. Along the trail where there aren’t bear boxes, it is still important to store your food properly. Make sure you know either how to hang a bear bag properly or carry a food storage container. Bear canisters and Ursacks are the most effective storage methods and the easiest to use.

Bugs and Poison Oak

Mosquitoes are present along the Rogue, but the dry climate generally limits their numbers compared to other PNW trails. Use a combination of permethrin on your clothing and a small amount of 30% DEET on exposed skin when you need full protection.

Poison Oak is abundant along the Rogue River Trail. It’s seriously all over the place, so make sure you know how to identify poison oak and avoid it at all costs. We suggest wearing long pants on this trail and bringing a small amount of calamine lotion in case of contact.

More Information

I hope this guide helps you plan a fun adventure on the Rogue River Trail. As always, please leave a comment below if you have any recommendations, questions, or suggestions.

For more popular CleverHiker content, check out the following links:

 

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.